The 5th Day of the 2nd Month in the Year of Our Lord 1517
You could sense a certain tension. The day was crisp, but not cold. The clouds were wet, but no rain fell. No words were spoken, yet the air was heavy with import. As the sun broke through the clouds to herald in the day, one man could be seen approaching from the west. His movements were slow and calculated, but there was no hesitation in his step.
Martin Luther confidently strode up to the door of the Wittenburg Castle church and nailed down a single sheet of paper. It wasn't what people wanted to see, but it was what they needed to hear. This singular act of defiance sparked a revolution. The words nailed to that giant slab of wood were an enormous influence on modern thinking and the legacy of his actions has burned a hole in our history books.
People crowded around the sheet of paper to see what Martin Luther could have possibly cared about so much to risk everything to say. These words were heresy, and the punishment was death, or even worse, a lifetime of exile. Martin Luther did not take things lightly. This was no joke. This was serious.
That heavy oak door was like the single pairings board in a 2,000 person GP. The people in the back had to wait for those in front to read the paper and then clear out. After enough had moved out of the way, if they leaned in and squinted just so, they could barely make out the words.
2. Golgari Grave-Troll is unbanned in Modern.
3. Treasure Cruise is banned in Legacy.
4. Worldgorger Dragon is unbanned in Legacy.
The list trailed off for a bit.
85. Though shalt not shuffle cheat thine opponent's deck, lest ye risk the wroth of the Duelist Convocation International.
86. These bans shall henceforth go into effect on the 15th day of the 4th month of the 1522nd Year of our Lord on the Magic: The Gathering Sundial. Five years hath been deemed sufficient time to update the Sundial in preparation for the upcoming tournament.
Blah blah blah. You get the idea. There were 95 of these things. People got bored halfway through.
The clergy of the Wittenberg Castle church were abuzz with the news. This was big. The formats that they knew and loved were thoroughly shaken up. Most stood around, head in hands, unsure of what to do or how to handle the news. Many blamed Martin Luther and demanded punishment. Others threatened to leave the faith in despair. Chaos and anarchy ruled the day.
Not everyone was destroyed by the news, however. There was a singular exception to the rule. There always is. One man did not sit idly around. One man didn't bury his head in his hands. He didn't complain or bemoan the death of Birthing Pod and Treasure Cruise. He didn't quit. He didn't cast blame. He made plans. He adapted. He Pondered his options, though not literally, as it too remained banned.
This solitary figure said a brief prayer of thanks to Johannes Gutenberg for his brilliant invention, sat down at his printing press and got to work. Eternal life? That could wait. He cared more for Eternal formats. He painstakingly set the keys in place as he grabbed a vial of ink.
It was time to break Modern. It was time to break Legacy. This was no mere revolution. This was a reformation.
Martin Luther had 95 Theses. This man needed only 75 cards...
There was no time to waste. The sun passed behind the clouds. Day turned to night.
The 7th Day of the 9th Month in The Year of Our Lord 1599
"To ban, or not to ban. That is the question. Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous Pod chain, or to take arms against Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. And by opposing, to end them? To play--to cast, no more."
William Shakespeare recited lines from his magnum opus to a handful of his peers and friends sitting around the tavern fire. To many, it was just another play, but to Shakespeare it was far more than that. The ban of Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Birthing Pod in Modern, along with a Treasure Cruise ban in Legacy was the kind of change that had redefined the world. It would echo through centuries. He had to get it just right.
"I call it, a Midwinter's Night Ban" he said to no-one in particular. "For my dream was that one blustery winter night, Wizards of the Coast passed down the ultimatum to ban these cards, and irrevocably alter the face of Eternal Magic. One sheet of paper on a church door alters the world forevermore."
"Not to be pedantic, my dear friend," piped up a friend of William's. "But wasn't the ban passed down at 11 AM, not during the middle of the night? They no longer operate at that hour. World changing ultimatums now go out during normal business hours."
"Ah yes. Right you are. But 'An Eleven in the Morning During the Winter Banning Announcement" just doesn't have the same ring. The best part of history is that we get to rewrite it. Years from now, will anyone know the difference? We make the story."
"But do you believe these cards even deserved to be banned? Should your play make light of the absurdity of it all? They weren't winning every tournament. Surely they were not oppressive?"
"Ah, but that is where we differ, dear friend." William stroked his beard for a few seconds to collect his thoughts before replying. "What's in a name? That which we call an Ancestral Recall by any other name would break Magic just as hard. Treasure Cruise was too strong, it's continued legality too wrong.
I, like many other before me, would have preferred they merely unban other cards of a similar power level, rather than ban these new offenders to the Modern throne. Perhaps by unbanning Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Green Sun's Zenith, and Golgari Grave-Troll they could balance the format by making everything more powerful around those cards.
But they did not see things that way. Unless they were willing to unban a bunch of cards, which they clearly were not, then banning these cards was the right thing to do. Pod was obviously an overpowered Magic card. It had won roughly 50% of all Modern Grand Prix, and its mere presence in the format invalidated entire strategies. Centuries ago, crusades were fought over whether the lists should Pod Rhino into Obzedat, or instead feature Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune. These wars gave birth to a new empire. A Pod empire. Regardless of which side won the holy war, the end result would remain the same. Pod dominates. The world suffers.
With the introduction of Siege Rhino, even more moderate midrange decks like Abzan Midrange could no longer compete. How could they hang with the raw card advantage of the card Birthing Pod when the rest of the deck was also capable of beating them even without Pod active? Plus, it seems pitiful to see Birthing Pod legal in Modern while simply lesser cards like Bloodbraid Elf suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous earlier bannings."
"Can we lay off the slings and arrows? That's like the fifth time you've said that tonight. Seriously. I distinctly remember you, and I quote, 'suffering the slings and arrows' of the serving girl skipping over you to refill my glass first. You also 'suffered the slings and arrows' of an actual sling and an actual arrow when that archer dropped his traveling sack on you. We get it. Slings. Arrows. Suffering. Outrageous." Shakespeare's friend, sighed. "Seriously, expand that vocabulary. Maybe next time suffer the sheaths and swords. Just a thought."
"Get off my nuts," Shakespeare retorted. "Your verbal slings and arrows can kiss my Julius Caesar, Romeo. Now you better Juli-let me finish up before I bust a Capulet in your lumpy backside. What? What's that? Got nothing else? I thought so. Sling these.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah. The 'buhbelf' herself. BBE. Bloodbraid Elf is weaker than Birthing Pod, and I dare say it's wrong for one to be banned and not the other. Bring back Elf or put Pod on the shelf.
And don't even think about getting me started on Treasure Cruise. The card dug its own grave--get it? I used the word dug because of Dig Through Time? Yeah, you get it. I'm the father of puns. Get on my level. Cruise was too powerful, and it forced out every deck that couldn't keep up with it. One of the only strategies left in the wake was Birthing Pod. While Treasure Cruise didn't dominate, its mere presence destroyed the diversity of the Modern format. When a previously unplayed card like Chalice of the Void becomes a maindeck mainstay, Cruise must go.
In Legacy too, Cruise was oppressive, true. While I, among many others, enjoyed a good vacation on the love boat, I can't say that it wasn't deserving of the axe. Entire cards and strategies were rendered useless in the wake of Treasure Cruise. Dig Through Time remains viable and is far less powerful. In a format like Legacy, Dig is a fine card. It can exist peacefully.
The bannings were justified. The format has not died. A Midwinter's Night Ban will not mock the bans. They will be treated as they are, fair. Now, where is that damned serving girl? If I have to suffer the slings and arrows of her avoiding our table one more time, I swear, I will go H.A.M.let throughout this entire godforsaken tavern."
With that, the conversation between William Shakespeare and his friends turned to other matters. As their laughter echoed throughout the tavern, a silent figure slowly stood up and put away a quill and a sheet of perfectly folded parchment. Shakespeare and his companions were too busy throwing back another tankard of ale to notice anything out of the ordinary. Shadows on the wall were just that, shadows.
This figure, however, noticed everything. Every word. Every gesture. Every unspoken meaning. The folded parchment was carefully tucked away in a sack, and the shadowy figure slipped out the back door of the tavern, never to be seen or heard from again.
Once outside, the figure paused to briefly recap what he had seen. A paper nailed to a church door. A meeting of friends to discuss it. The cards were banned. The bans were justified. But it told only one part of the tale. That was the past. He needed to know the future. There was more to learn, and he wouldn't stop until he had it all. Every last drop of knowledge would be his.
The figure closed his eyes, breathed heavily, and the world went black.
Month 4, Day 12, Year 1859
This was it. Everything he had worked for came down to this very moment. For Charles, creatures were his life's work. Those five years he spent on the HMS Beagle. The countless hours writing, studying, thinking. He gave away so much of his life to his work. It would ruin him if none of it mattered, if nobody cared, if he was rejected. His life work. His life, a waste. A drop of water in a giant ocean of humanity. Splash. The thought of failure ate him up inside.
His colleagues greeted him with a grim smile. "Good day to you, Charles. I hope all is well with Emma?"
"All is well. I thank you for your inquiry." Charles paused, briefly. "Gentlemen, I would appreciate it greatly if we could cut to the point. My stomach is in knots. I must know."
"Very well." One of the scholars flipped over the book in his hand. On the cover read 'On the Origin of Abzan Midrange by Means of Necessary Bannings, or the Preservation of Tarmogoyf in the Struggle for Modern Viability. By Charles Darwin.' "Well, Charles, I guess I won't make you wait any longer."
"We've read your work, and we've come to a conclusion." The scholar paused, seeming at a loss for words.
"Yes?" Charles asked, fearing the worst.
"Well. It's brilliant. It's eye opening. This work will change the way we see Modern. Creatures for so long have been so misunderstood in the grand scheme of things. No more. You've destroyed everything we've thought was right for so long. It was hard to admit it. None of us wanted to. But you were right. All of it. Lhurgoyfs, Rhinos, Oozes. These are the natural products of a format's evolution. These are the creatures of millions of years of progress. You solved it."
"Thank you. Thank you so much." Charles could hardly keep himself from breaking down in tears. "You can't know much this means to me. All these years. Casting Liliana. Thoughtseize into Goyf into Inquisition and Decay. I needed to know that it meant something. Thank you for validating my life's work."
"I'm glad we could see the light." The scholar wrinkled his nose. "But you must tell us one thing, Charles. How did you draw these conclusions? What led you to these incredible discoveries? Nothing else has even come close to this. You must share."
"Gladly. Shall we sit down?" Charles took up a seat next to a great apple tree. He waited until all were comfortable before continuing. "When the format was shaken up by bans, so many years ago, we all moved on to new ideas and new decks, but nothing really changed. We simply put our faith blindly in the words of those in power. No one thought to question the status quo or challenge the sacred ideas of our times.
Abzan Midrange was always a viable Modern contender, were it not for one thing. It couldn't beat Pod. Pod did the same thing as the deck, but better, harder, stronger, faster. Pod was a mutated, evolved, Abzan Midrange. Its genetic code was doomed to failure, but until its extinction came to fruition all the lesser archetypes bowed to it.
But now Abzan Midrange is my natural selection for the best deck. It lost its worst matchup and it gains an enormous threat in Siege Rhino. Between cards like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Siege Rhino, and a new species I found on the Galapagos Islands, Tasigur the Golden Fang, Abzan Midrange has the cheapest, biggest, most brutal creatures in the format. You could even try things like Anafenza, the Foremost or Doran, the Siege Tower. Paired with hand disruption, Liliana of the Veil, and cheap and powerful removal spells, I think this is the default deck to beat."
"But surely, Charles, there are more decks that win and lose than just Abzan Midrange. You love creatures big and small. Certainly you are biased, but you must admit there is more to the Modern jungle than just Rhinos and Lhurgoyfs?"
"Why yes, there are. Affinity is another big winner. Treasure Cruise gave U/R Delver lasting power against Affinity's hordes of one-toughness creatures. Survival of the Fittest. The smallest creatures die off to Forked Bolts and Lightning Bolts while the strong survive. Now that the strongest have been eliminated, the small creatures can thrive again.
Affinity can now cut chaff like Chalice of the Void. Affinity has also always been a great deck against things like Jund Midrange. While Abzan Midrange offers more tools with Lingering Souls and Stony Silence, I still wager that Affinity is likely favored. I suspect that Affinity is another big gainer from the bans.
Splinter Twin seems poorly positioned. Splinter Twin thrived on beating Pod decks but struggled against pure midrange strategies like Abzan. It was the circle of life, but the circle has been cut. Now it is a predator and prey relationship, and Splinter Twin is the prey. I don't see Deceiver Exarch surviving in a world of Liliana and Abrupt Decay.
The last one is Jeskai Control. The deck couldn't match the card advantage of Treasure Cruise, nor could it keep pace with the power of Pod. However, it has always had a strong matchup against most of the rest of the field. With these two gone, I imagine Jeskai will be good once more. Can it match pace with a Rhino? That I couldn't tell you, but I know it has potential. With some work, it could be good."
"One last question, Charles. I must know. In all of your travels and studies, did you encounter the Golgari Grave-Troll? What manner of beast is this? What will it do to our Modern world?"
"Unfortunately, my time studying that creature was cut short. I don't know much about it other than to say its natural element is with other likeminded species like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, the ineffable Vengevine, and the famed Stinkweed Imp. I foresee a deck featuring this assortment of beasts could become worth discussing, but I know not enough to put the pieces together myself, and I dare not overstep my bounds and make claims I cannot support. Making the ones I could support was hard enough."
After a few more niceties, the scholars concluded their discussion. As they stood up to leave, Charles Darwin arose with them.
"Gentlemen, it was a pleasure," one scholar remarked. "Give my regards to Emma, Charles. And let her know that I must know more On the Origin of those Buttermilk Biscuits. They were to die for." Unbeknownst to all, minutes later, that same scholar would pass away from a heart complication involving oversaturation of Buttermilk Biscuit. It was the kind of unglorified death that only a fictional character could suffer to advance the storyline, but it was a tragedy nonetheless.
The scholars dispersed, content to travel their separate ways. All but one. One scholar stayed behind. He had been silent throughout the entire discussion, content to listen and watch. He now rested against the back of the tree and thought. To anyone passing by, it was a scholar sitting thinking under a tree. There was nothing out of the ordinary about any of it.
But the thoughts that raged through his mind were anything but ordinary. Tarmogoyf. Siege Rhino. Arcbound Ravager. Snapcaster Mage. Were these the new face of Modern? Were these the new overlords? The new threats? For hours, he sat and thought. Over time, he grew more and more confident and more and more steadfast in his knowledge. He was figuring it out, piece by piece.
A smile spread across his lips, slowly at first, but eventually it turned into a full on grin. A set of perfectly white teeth shone forth from an otherwise plain face. At the smile's apex, an apple fell from the tree and smacked him on the head. "Ouch!" he cried out.
Then he laughed. "Newton said the same thing," he announced matter-of-factly, speaking out loud to a nonexistent audience. "I ought to find a different reaction. I wouldn't want to be...derivative of Sir Isaac, after all." He briefly laughed at his own joke, then thought better of it.
"The world will never know of my comedic brilliance" he stated with a sigh. Suddenly, his eyes grew dark and his thoughts clouded. "Nor can they. It would ruin everything. They must not know." The sun passed behind a hill. The temperature dropped. The day turned to night.
He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. The world behind him disappeared.
August 16th, 1941. Midafternoon.
It was a small room, and packed with people. One man walked back and forth from one side of the room to the other, taking small, patient, but calculated steps. Beads of sweat formed on his brow before dropping to patter on the floor below. It was hot in the room, almost unbearably so, but no one dared to leave.
Everyone stood in silence, watching the man pace back and forth. They all waited to hear what he would say. Seconds passed. Then minutes. Still, nobody spoke. The sound of explosions could be heard faintly in the background. Pictures rattled on the walls. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Winston Churchill spoke up.
"What we needed is a miracle, and we got it. Things looked grim, but with the banning of Treasure Cruise, we finally have a sliver of hope. Dig Through Time is free, and with it, I will fight to the bitter end. We were unprepared for these blitzkrieg strategies, but now we have time to slow things down. Without Cruise, they can no longer fight back. These Lightning Bolts and Lightning Strikes will be rendered useless under the Counterbalance Top lock. Order will be restored. The forces of evil will crumble under our Force of Will."
Murmurs of agreement could be heard throughout the room. Winston singled out an adviser, an aloof, shadowy figure standing silently in the back of the room. "You. What do you think about this format? Is Miracles poised to come back?"
The figure stared back in silent shock. He was not used to being spoken to or even noticed, for that matter. No words came to him. He just simply stood there, frozen in place.
Winston became confused for a second before saying, "I'm sorry, ignore that. I...I was confused. I thought you were someone else." He turned to another advisor and repeated the question. "Do you agree? Will Miracles return?"
The adviser responded. "I believe so, sir. There are always hostile matchups, but it seems better now than ever before."
"Yes. It was dominant before Khans of Tarkir, and it should be able to easily regain its past glory, especially with Dig Through Time still functional.
I suspect we will see Legacy go back to what it looked like before Treasure Cruise changed everything. There will be differences, of course, but some older decks like Shardless Sultai and Elves are poised to make a resurgence now that they can't be killed by attrition with Treasure Cruise anymore. Dig Through Time is good, but it's not the same. Not at all.
Decks like Sultai Delver and Temur Delver will also surge back into popularity. Those decks were held back by being just worse versions of U/R Delver. Also, without Treasure Cruise, Wasteland is back again. I remember what it was like to be Stifled and Wasted out of a game, and I'm ready to experience that same feeling again. As much as I hated it then, I kind of miss it now. What felt so wrong is now Deathrite."
Winston began to pace back and forth across the room again. He appeared lost in thought. After a minute of silence, one brave soul stepped up and broke the silence. "Sir, what will become of Jeskai Stoneblade? Can it compete, or is it doomed to be a casualty of war?"
Winston stopped pacing and turned.
"Jeskai Stoneblade. An interesting question. Stoneforge Mystic is still a powerful card, but I don't think the deck can exist in its current configuration. It needs to adapt as we all do. Everything changes, and those who don't adjust don't survive. That's simply the reality of war.
Jeskai Stoneblade can still exist, but it needs to become a more controlling shell focusing on Dig Through Time, or it needs to transition into a Delver deck with Wasteland. Personally, I lean toward the controlling shell. I think it is time for Jace to make his triumphant return. Jace and Stoneforge Mystic were meant to be played together, from the time they were in Standard till now. 75 years from now, they will be played together. It is their destiny."
You could tell that Winston was about to start pacing again, but his thoughts were interrupted with a loud and crisp knock on the door. A soldier stepped into the room.
"Sir, I have a report for you." Everyone went dead silent. "Sir, I hate to interrupt, but it's urgent. It's about Worldgorger Dragon." Winston looked at his advisors and motioned them to leave.
"We'll meet up again later. There is still more to discuss." Winston followed his advisors out of the door and matched step with the soldier.
One figure stayed behind. His heart was beating uncontrollably. He sat down and grabbed a glass of water.
"That was close," he thought to himself. "It's wearing off. It's a miracle I survived this."
He didn't spend time savoring all the information he had learned, like he normally did. There was no time for that. He'd have to process it all later. Somewhere else. Somewhere safe. The only thought on his mind now was getting out. He crawled under the desk and put his hands over his head. A bomb went off in the distance. The walls rattled.
He could hear footsteps approaching and people yelling in the distance, but the sounds grew dimmer and dimmer. He could faintly hear a door opening and a voice calling out, but it felt like it was from a different world altogether. He closed his eyes tightly and awaited what was next.
A single soldier walked into the room that once housed Winston Churchill. He looked around carefully but found nothing of interest.
"I thought I heard someone in here," he muttered to himself. "My mind must be playing tricks on me."
Saturday, January 31st, 2015. 10:34 AM
All around the room, people moved. They bumped into each other and slid around each other as chairs dragged and scraped against the cold, concrete floor. The sound of hundreds of voices could be heard echoing off the gray walls.
"Nice to meet you." "Hello." "Oops sorry, didn't mean to bump you." "I need to squeeze in here."
Hundreds of people were gathered in a singular room, united with a sole purpose, sharing a common interest. One man gazed out at the sea of people with cold, piercing eyes. He wore a dark black hoodie and a pair of jeans. His hood covered most of his head, but you could still see the features of his face illuminated in the reflections of artificial light. He slowly and methodically moved through the mass of humanity to his destination.
He pulled out a pen and pad of paper and set them on the table in front of him. He grabbed a box of matching dice out of his backpack and set it next to his pad. A placard sat on the table in front of him. "Table 75" it read. 75 was his lucky number. This was going to be a good day.
He pulled 75 Magic cards out of a deckbox. He counted fifteen cards. He double and triple checked them before placing them neatly back in the box. He gazed at the 60 cards that remained. For the first time in his life, the storm that raged inside of him had calmed down. He felt only peace. Everything came down to this. He was ready.
As he shuffled, another person sat down across from him.
"Hello," she said. He looked up at her and said hi. "I'm really sad they banned my favorite cards," she said, trying to make small talk as they shuffled up. "I wish I could go back in time and play them one last time."
"Go back in time? I bet you could learn a lot doing that," the hooded figure responded, as a sly smile crossed his lips.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" she suddenly asked, a quizzical look passing across her face. "I feel like I've definitely seen you before. Where do I know you?"
"Must be deja vu. I don't think you know me." He smiled. A set of perfectly white teeth sat in contrast to an otherwise plain face. "I'm not from around here." The two finished shuffling and drew their opening hands.
An announcement echoed across the entire tournament hall.
"Magic players. Welcome to round one. You have 50 minutes. You may begin."
He looked up and smiled. This is what he lived for. Everything he gave up, and everything he had done came down to this.
He glanced down at his hand. Six lands and a Thoughtseize. Probably should have mulliganed. Oops.